Taking Steps to Hold Property Owners More Accountable

“There are too many bad buildings in South Milwaukee. The city needs to do more to hold these property owners accountable.”

I have heard a variation of this statement countless times in recent years, and I’m happy to say we’re stepping up our efforts in this area.

First, I say this: We have taken, and continue to take, this issue very seriously. One example: We have created the code enforcement officer position, and Dave Krey is devoted to this effort. He’s done terrific work. In 2017 alone, he issued 499 orders and advisory letters on properties for issues ranging from debris and parking vehicle issues to permit, interior and exterior violations.

But you’ve told us that’s not enough. We have listened.

With that in mind, here are some of the things we’re tackling around problem and vacant properties (often one and the same) …

  • First, the South Milwaukee Common Council on Tuesday gave final passage of a vacant property ordinance that requires owners of vacant commercial property to register with the city and maintain a higher minimum standard of upkeep, inside and out, for their buildings, or risk paying a fee. See it here.
  • South Milwaukee is also receiving $18,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding from the federal government (through Milwaukee County) for additional code enforcement in 2018. This is the first time we sought this money through block grants, following the lead of other communities. We are looking to use these funds to increase our enforcement staff and capabilities, and we’ve already posted the job. See it here.
  • We have also added a new “re-inspection fee” as a tool for our code enforcement officer. This is a $100-200 fee that will be charged to property owners who do no adequately address orders issued by the city, and require a re-inspection. The fee will be charged every time we need to re-inspect.
  • Speaking of orders, to ensure more of those orders are followed through upon, our city attorney has recently stepped up his involvement in these cases from the start, getting regular updates on problem properties instead of waiting for owners to arrive at Municipal Court. It’s work that will pay dividends over time. We’ve already taken two owners to court in the past year.

Of course, this is about much more than enforcement. It can’t be all punitive measures. Those can only go so far.

We, as a city, must also be part of the solution, offering tools and other support for property owners who are willing into invest in their buildings. We’re doing that, including partnering to bring to the table three initiatives focused downtown:

That is in addition to the significant investments the city is making in economic development (hiring a director in November, tasked in part with bringing new life to our vacant and underutilized buildings), beautification and downtown streetscaping. All of these efforts, and more, will help improve the look and feel of our city, and its properties.

In other words, we’re doing our part.

We need our problem property owners to do theirs.


Filed under South Milwaukee

8 responses to “Taking Steps to Hold Property Owners More Accountable

  1. Bryan Lorentzen

    Nice job! Keep it up!

    Bryan Lorentzen


  2. Kathleen Martini

    How about bringing non fast food restaurants to our fair city where the empty bowling alley is located. Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Kopps, Or a inside place for families to go to? We are surrounded by beautiful outdoor parks, baseball, soccer field just south of city, playgrounds. It would be a nice addition and would bring even more people to our city.

    • As you may know, a soccer facility is currently planned for that property, pending further review by the Plan Commission and city council. That said, I really like where our local restaurant scene is headed, driven by small, unique, independent eateries with terrific food — the “anti-chains.” In the past two-plus years, for example, Taco Stop, Scrappy’s BBQ, Island Jam, The Tap Room and Tracker’s Pub & Grub have opened, all to terrific reviews. Add those to outstanding existing options like Azteca, China Chef, Barbiere’s, Paisano’s … you get the idea. I can’t name them all, but we’re on our way to becoming famous our food in this town, and I love it.

      • Kathleen Martini

        Upon reflection I totally agree with the restaurant venues. I do believe an indoor sports facility would be a great way to bring more people to our city during winter for instance and attract people to than eat at our local restaurants and bars.

  3. Rocandroo

    Many other cities have adopted a policy that holds commercial properties owners accountable. Instead of using our tax dollars to make improvements on delinquent properties and vacant storefronts, it puts the responsibility back on the owners to negotiate reasonable rents, attract new tenants and to improve/modernize their own properties.
    Why doesn’t SM consider a vacant property registration program that would require landlords to pay a fee for every six months a storefront is vacant? The fees would then double each year. I think this would send a clear message and would motivate landlords to take care of their property.

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